Cover StoryCrime

The chief concern: McDermed’s departure continues a history of instability at UOPD

Chief Carolyn McDermed left quietly and with no warning.

On Friday, Feb. 26, at 9:34 p.m. the staff at the University of Oregon Police Department found out its chief of nearly four years had retired via email. By Monday, she had been replaced.

McDermed had a full schedule for the following week. Her contract guaranteed her employment as chief until June 30. Upon retiring, the university paid out the rest of her contract — $46,000. Retired UOPD captain Pete Deshpande was named interim police chief until a full-time replacement is found.

McDermed is the third chief in a row to leave the department suddenly. The UOPD has not had a permanent chief finish his or her contract in a decade. Former officers say UOPD’s management has been unprofessional and unstable.

Carolyn McDermed, UO police chief from 2012-2016 (Cole Elsasser/Emerald).

Carolyn McDermed, UO police chief from 2012-2016 (Cole Elsasser/Emerald).

McDermed’s tenure was marked by several scandals.

In October 2012, McDermed fired a young officer named James Cleavenger, who then brought a lawsuit against UOPD, alleging wrongful termination and retaliation from other officers. The university lost the lawsuit and $755,000 in damages to Cleavenger last summer, and $36,000 of the total stemmed directly from McDermed’s involvement in his termination.

The university filed motions to appeal the court’s decision, but those motions were denied by a federal judge on Feb. 29 — the next business day after McDermed retired.

In 2014, the “Bowl of Dicks List,” was leaked, a list of people and things UOPD night shift officers felt should “eat a bowl of dicks.” The story was picked up by many national media outlets, adding to the scrutiny over McDermed’s management.

But the scandals under McDermed’s leadership are symptoms of shaky management that began much earlier than McDermed’s tenure.

“I personally went through five directors while I was there — for 10 years, that’s quite a few,” said former officer Elizabeth Nix. She served on the department from 2000 to 2010. The constant turnover in leadership created an unstable atmosphere in the department.

“It affected the morale. It affected the feeling,” she said. “Some [directors] would be a little more restrictive with things; some would come and lay down the hammer, like, ‘You’ve been doing it this way, but you can’t do that anymore,’ or ‘You need to start doing this, even though you’ve never done this.’ ”

Part of the recent instability at the department can also be traced to UOPD’s transition from a department of public safety to the sworn police department it is now. That transition began in 2012, a few months before McDermed took over as chief.

When prior chief Kevin Williams stepped down suddenly and without explanation in 2009, an Emerald investigation found that two top department officials spent $3,300 of the department’s training budget on parking and a golfing conference in Florida while other officers were denied training on how to deal with mental health situations. The university declined to provide details of Williams’ departure, citing Oregon privacy laws.

Doug Tripp was promoted to the position and served as director until 2012, when he, too, suddenly retired, only 20 days after renewing his contract for another year. Tripp served in an advisory capacity for the department until the end of his contract. McDermed inherited the police department after Tripp.

Ultimately, who leads the department is up to university administration, and that’s where Nix felt the problems originated. She felt that there was consistent, bad management despite who the director was.

“A lot of the troubles that have plagued the department really have been management and upper-management type of issues,” Nix said. “It really isn’t the people out there on the street doing their job.”

Administration doesn’t have a hand in the day-to-day department operations: some controversies, like the “Bowl of Dicks” list and parts of Cleavenger’s allegations, originated from one group of night shift officers.

Management styles may change going forward because UOPD is now overseen by Andre Le Duc in Enterprise Risk Services instead of the finance and administration department. Le Duc sees it as an evolution.

“Ideally, yes, you don’t want to have that much turnover, but we’ve had that in other places on the campus,” Le Duc said. “Public safety, five, six years ago, is nothing like what we have today, and hopefully what we’re going to be in two to three years. So I see it as a progression.”

The revolving door

In the last ten years, UOPD has had six directors or chiefs. Three have left suddenly. Here’s a timeline:

  • December 2006: UODPS (later UOPD) Director Tom Hicks resigns.
  • March 2007: Richard Turkiewicz hired as interim director.
  • August 2007: Kevin Williams replaces Turkiewics as DPS director.
  • March 2009: March 9th – Kevin Williams steps down. Doug Tripp becomes DPS Director
  • June 2011: Senate Bill 405 passes, allowing guns on campus.
  • January 2012: DPS becomes a police force and is later renamed UOPD.
  • June 2012: Doug Tripp steps down. Carolyn McDermed becomes interim chief.
  • June 2013: UOPD allowed to carry guns.
  • Sept. 2015: Cleavenger wins a $755,000 lawsuit based on McDermed and others’ actions against him.
  • Feb. 2016: McDermed steps down.
  • Feb. 29: Pete Deshpande becomes interim chief.

Le Duc is leading the search for the next chief. He plans on inviting candidates to campus to speak with students before the end of spring term.

“We have an opportunity now to look at what is the next wave of leadership to take UOPD to the next stage?” Le Duc said.

Interim Police Chief Deshpande said he’s focusing on giving human resources a stronger presence in the department, in order to prevent internal problems from occurring again.

Deshpande acknowledged the turbulence of the UOPD’s last few years. While he wouldn’t address specific events like the Cleavenger trial, as they were set in motion before his arrival at the department, he did address his plans for the future.

He vows to begin addressing issues immediately, saying anything UOPD does in the department needs to be “thoughtful, considered and sensible.”

Deshpande does not plan on remaining the department’s chief. While he doesn’t know if he’ll be involved in the search, he is prepared to assist if asked. “In the meantime, certainly, I will do everything I possibly can to move the department forward.”

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Noah McGraw

Noah McGraw

Noah is the 2016-17 Senior News Editor at the Emerald. His earliest journalistic influences were Tom Wolfe, Eric Schlosser and Batman. He loves '70s comics, '80s action movies and '90s music.